Turkey bluffing over Syria offensive targeting Kurdish militia - experts

Turkey is unlikely to launch an offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in Syria, despite Ankara's repeated threats of action, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua cited experts as saying on Saturday.

Ankara’s statements are part of a bluff, the experts told the agency, aimed at strengthening its hand ahead of an expected meeting between the presidents of Turkey and the United States next week.

Turkish President President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said Ankara is ready to take action on its southern border with Syria, warning of unilateral steps if Washington does not establish a “safe zone” in northeast Syria this month.

Turkey sees the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and as existential threats. Ankara has said it plans to launch a military offensive against the YPG, which controls some enclaves in northeast Syria along the Turkish border. The YPG forms the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

Faruk Loğoğlu, a former senior Turkish diplomat, told Xinhua that Ankara is unlikely to proceed with a Turkish cross-border military operation on the Kurdish militia.

"The YPG would resist it, the Syrian government opposes it and the U.S. has made clear such a move would be unwelcome," Loğoğlu said.

Turkish and U.S. armed forces have conducted joint patrols for a planned safe zone east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, however, Ankara says Washington is moving too slowly to establish a sufficiently large safe zone to push Syrian Kurdish forces from the border.

Turkey’s need for Washington's support for its ailing economy, in addition to the current political and military situations,  will stop Turkey from a cross-border operation, Cahit Armagan Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish military, said. 

Pointing to a meeting between Erdoğan and Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week,  Xinhua said the pair is expected to discuss the details regarding the safe zone, boosting bilateral trade and the Syrian war.

Loğoğlu maintains if Turkey is to receive a few more promises from the U.S. concerning the safe zone, it would ‘’shelve the idea of an operation by Turkey."

The meeting between the two leaders follows a visit by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to Turkey earlier this month, during which he also met with the Turkish president.

The NATO allies are looking to increase bilateral trade volume to 100 billion U.S. dollars, which was around 20 billion dollars last year, the agency said.

"The West knows Erdogan's hand is weak and Turkey's economy cannot support a major military operation, but considering Erdogan's unpredictable nature, the West would come up with proposals that help Ankara cope with its problems," it quoted Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, as saying. 

"The U.S. would not back off from its position on the safe zone because of Erdogan's threat," Dilek added.